I will admit that I have never been much of a political person. I have gone through most of my life blithely unaware of world circumstances beyond a very small bubble of consciousness that has surrounded me.
Of course when I was growing up, watching the news on TV and reading the daily newspaper were the only ways of sourcing information of what was truly happening in my world. I really wasn’t interested in the world or even the local news. If the televison local news sources chose to limit most of the “bad” that was in the greater world, then we were shielded from reality. It was not a time when my “family” ever chose to discuss world or even local events with me.
I traveled through school with little knowledge of what was happening outside of about a ten mile radius of my home in my “white milk” homogenous environment. There was no reason to discuss race relations with me because I only knew one race. Yes, there were occasionally those well dressed dark skinned ladies whom I glimpsed when we shopped “downtown”, but I was admonished not to stare, and within a block I didn’t even really remember passing them.
I knew there was something going on called a “war” because my cousin married a soldier. That was the extent of my knowledge of Korea. Other cultures were just names on maps. I thought I knew how to speak Spanish because of one lesson in social studies in fifth grade where we learned about “cafe con leche, adios, buenas dias”.
I honestly don’t think I knew what segregation was. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to befriend everyone. When I was twelve, I started volunteering in the day care in a South Side community association. Most of the preschoolers were not white. By the time I was thirteen, I was doing summer volunteer work in the local hospital. I spent several weeks in pediatrics. I would move from one bed to another trying to entertain the babies and toddlers. I ignored the one dark skinned baby in the center of the room until one day I was drawn to him with his sobbing and runny nose. He was the epitome of miserableness. I picked him up. When he put both arms around my neck my heart melted. I could feel myself changing. I don’t know why I avoided him in the first place. When we took our breaks, it was almost impossible for me to tell one maid from another . I couldn’t see skin tone, size, shape,or age. I just couldn’t get past the black.
I didn’t know much about “others”. My aunt, who lived with us after my mother died, totally confused me. When she didn’t think I helped her enough with the cleaning, she would say, “I worked like a N***er all day to get this place clean. When she didn’t like how I cared for my room, she would say, “Your room looks like a N***er lives there. I never questioned her, but I don’t think she realized she couldn’t have it both ways.
That’s why I was so unprepared to head off to a huge state college. I didn’t know that I wasn’t supposed to befriend anyone who was not white. When I met Diane in September, she was friendly, so I was friendly back. I didn’t know I was killing my social life for the whole year. When we went for a walk that first or second week of school a group of kids from my dorm drove by. Some guy yelled out at me “N***er lover”. I had sealed my fate as far as socializing with the girls on my floor before I even got used to my classes. Most of the girls were from Chicago suburbs or city areas that were highly segregated. The college couldn’t segregate the dorms but that didn’t mean that anyone needed to be friendly with either of the two “other” girls on the floor. I got to know them both. I attended a party at Diane’s Chicago south side home in the summer of 1965. It was protective to be naive.
I never knew my father was prejudiced until the day Martin Luther King died. I knew my fiance didn’t like having been in an integrated high school, but I didn’t know the depth of feelings both of them had. I cannot remember my fiance or father ever carrying on any other conversation with each other. For some reason they were both in the living room at the same time that evening. Father said something about being glad that MLK was shot. My fiance, shaking his hand, expressed similar delight. Both of them were not pleased with the uprising MLK had been causing. I was totally appalled at both of them.
Now that I no longer subscribe to the daily newspaper and do not watch that much news on TV, I have once again lost contact with most “others”. I am unaware what is happening in terms of race relations. I know that this month is African American History month but I’m not involved.
I know that in the summer of 1970 I met a teacher from Indiana with whom I became friends. The following summer I visited her and stayed overnight in her home. She and her husband took me to a nightclub where I was the only white person in the room. My father would have had a heart attack if he hadn’t had already experienced a fatal one already.
When I started teaching there was a young mother about ten years younger than I who volunteered many hours while her daughter was in my class. She later was hired as a secretary for our program and we became friends. Her husband was a troop leader when my son was in Scouts. I lost contact with her several years ago. I truly miss her companionship.
Some times I think naivety has a place in this world. My Indiana friend has passed on and my Fort Worth friend, I don’t know. I guess I was lucky not to have had the experience of intentional segregation in my life. I have been blessed with being able to accept friendships wherever I have found them. And I’m the better for it.
Namaste. Attic Annie